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Saturday, May 25, 2024
The independent student publication of The University at Buffalo, since 1950

Editorial: UB’s handling of last Wednesday’s pro-Palestine protest was unacceptable

The overwhelming police presence made tensions worse

<p>Multiple pro-Palestine protesters were arrested on the lawn outside Hochstetter Hall, where demonstrators had attempted to set up an encampment hours earlier.&nbsp;</p>

Multiple pro-Palestine protesters were arrested on the lawn outside Hochstetter Hall, where demonstrators had attempted to set up an encampment hours earlier. 

Editor’s note: This column is the collective opinion of members of our editorial board. This is not a reported piece. 

View a video timeline of last week’s events here.

Protesters thrown to the ground by police. Seven students arrested. Multiple people injured. Arrested protesters loaded onto a Stampede bus. 

It didn’t have to be this way. 

Last week, dozens of police officers from multiple departments — including the State Police, Erie County Sheriff’s Office, Buffalo, Amherst, Tonawanda and Kenmore — arrived on campus and arrested at least 15 people, many forcefully.

The crime? Assembling after dark. 

Things started calmly. Despite mutual mistrust, protesters obeyed police orders to remove tents and other “encampment materials” from the site of their protest on the Hochstetter lawn to comply with a 2020 policy barring encampments. The situation seemed to have de-escalated. 

But that wasn’t enough for UB administrators and law enforcement. 

Hours after demonstrators transitioned to a sit-in protest, UB demanded that all demonstrators leave campus by sundown. When protesters — many of whom are students who live, work and study on this campus — stood with locked arms or bowed in prayer, dozens of police officers descended on the demonstration. What followed was the most violent on-campus altercation in recent memory. 

It didn’t have to be this way. 

UB justified its response in a statement by arguing that its protest policy bars “overnight assemblies.” While perhaps the university’s argument for some police involvement would’ve been understandable in the wee hours of the morning, making that argument at 8:22 p.m. was absurd. 

Many students had class until 9:10 p.m. that evening. The Lockwood and Silverman libraries, several Campus Dining locations and Alumni Arena were all open. Clubs were holding dance, swim and soccer practice, bible study and more. 

UB hasn’t always enforced this “after dark” assembly policy so strictly. Last spring, when conservative commentator Michael Knowles came to campus, UB had no problem letting protesters — including many non-university affiliated individuals — gather in opposition well after dark.

And while UB says last week’s protest was led by “individuals with no known affiliation with the university” who “made up a large portion of the protestors,” The Spectrum’s reporting contradicts that claim. Multiple student groups, including UB Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), and SUNY Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) led and organized the protest — just like they have led on-campus protests all year.

The reality of the situation is clear: fewer than 100 people organized, led and participated in an on-campus protest. When their initial plan went against UB rules, the protesters complied. When a second round of orders came from police, to leave at 8:22 p.m., the protesters stayed put. Police — in numbers equaling the demonstrators —  responded by chasing, tackling and arresting these peaceful protesters.

And during the raid, police shoved, berated and obstructed multiple journalists — student and professional — as they attempted to capture the historic show of force.

This response was inappropriate, unnecessary and unacceptable.

The protesters did not disrupt campus activity by sitting on the lawn after dark. The police response did. The protesters were not violent. Police were. 

The Spectrum believes that all students have the right to speak their minds on campus in a peaceful fashion. Last week’s protesters did exactly that. UB’s strong-armed, selective enforcement of a technicality in its rules shows the university’s true colors. This was not the free speech and debate that the university claims to stand for.

The Spectrum stands with all students who wish to express their ideas on campus. We condemn all hate and violence. We condemn police brutality and hatred against Mulsim and pro-Palestinian students. In the same certain terms, we condemn hatred, violence and threats against Jewish and pro-Israel demonstrators holding protests of their own. These are non-negotiable ideals. Hate has no place at UB.

The University at Buffalo failed its students last week. Instead of listening, instead of holding a dialogue, administrators chose force in a knee-jerk reaction. This runs counter to everything we believe in, and counter to what universities are supposed to stand for. 

The University Police do a great deal to protect the little city we call UB. But that protection sits on a foundation of trust.

Wednesday night was a violation of that trust — and instead of apologizing, our university has doubled down.

We are disappointed.

The editorial board can be reached at opinion@ubspectrum.com 

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